Peaches Help Grow Slovenia’s Gift Economy

By Marjana Kos

An amazing initiative happened in Slovenia this summer. It started with a man who decided to buy a box of peaches from a local farmer while on a business trip to Vipava – a fruit-growing region.  He was very pleased about the price – 1 euro per kg – which is roughly half the price in the shops.  The farmer was even happier about the price, because this was almost 6 times the ‘global market price’ he was getting from Fructal, the fruit juice factory in the region!

Because there was plenty of room in his van, the businessman offered to bring back boxes of peaches to others who might be interested.  He posted his offer on Slovenia’s ‘good deeds’ portal (www.dobradela.si), and the offer spread quickly through email and Facebook. In the end he received several hundred requests for peaches – too many for him to handle. So he asked people for organizational help: receiving and sorting requests, picking up boxes from a central location in Ljubljana, and delivering them locally. An online sign-up system was set up virtually overnight, and dozens of people volunteered to help. Suddenly, a one-time offer became a nation-wide project!

As one might expect, he bumped into administrative barriers: he was told that ‘good deeds’ are not recognized by law, and that he would have to pay tax on the money he collected from people – even though he would be receiving only what he paid for the peaches, without any profit. These barriers didn’t stop him. Instead he distributed the peaches for free! People were told that in exchange they could do something good for someone else …

More than five thousand people participated in the initiative, distributing over 10 tons of peaches throughout Slovenia. It was one of the biggest self-organized projects in the country, second only to the ‘Let’s Clean Slovenia in One day’ campaign in 2010.  And these peaches actually had taste: unlike those at supermarkets, they ripened on trees and were delivered to people virtually overnight.

The peach season is over, but the initiative continues: the core group is setting up a system that will be viable financially. Growers are already contacting them with offers for autumn fruits like grapes and apples, and people are using the system to distribute things for those in need, from toys and bicycles to clothes, computers, phones, and more.

This shows that localisation is not just about village economies, but it’s about forging more direct, more human-scale relationships and circumventing the global juggernaut. Most important, this spontaneous, self-organizing initiative is proof that people are motivated by far more than self-interest and profit.

9 thoughts on “Peaches Help Grow Slovenia’s Gift Economy

  1. I’m so happy to read about it in others blogs. I must say that I was one of those 5 thousand buyers. And I was happy to help those farmers (in the end it was several of them). I would and I will do it again! Fructal offered so low price per one kilogram and those peaches in stores are so high overpriced and they do not taste so good!

  2. Guy who started this, and all the people joining this great idea, proved again that human nature is way above just profit making mentality.
    And they also proved that no good deed goes unpunished – government with its’ bureaucratic apparatus will always take any measure necessary to protect their citizens from trying to make this world a little better place.

  3. If you are serious about starting a gift economy, you should look into “The Gift: The Form and Reason of Exchange in Archaic Societies” by Marcel Mauss (1990, first published in French 1950). Contrary to what is implied in this article (charity plus pay-it-forward), an obligation is incurred in a gift economy. This was a vibrant exchange system in the past and it was built upon the concept “there are no free gifts.” There can be all kinds of misunderstandings when people “forget” about obligation. It also encourages the capitalist mindset. Let me give you an example.

    In 2012, I offered free CSA shares for low-income people in Whatcom County, Washington, where I live. I advertised it as much as I could and many people knew about it. I mentioned quite clearly that this was intended to be a small trial of a gift economy and that the shareholders incurred obligations. [Fulfilling obligations are left to the receiver of the gift, by the way. It is not as rigid as a money economy. See Mauss.] I also suggested people could send me money to pay for other peoples’ shares – $1, $20, I didn’t care. [Donations can be seen as one way to transition to a gift economy.] One person nominated two people and a Bellingham nonprofit, Parent 2 Parent, nominated two people. Two families received their CSA boxes and one person gave up her share because she doesn’t eat locally and only eats things like mangoes, coconuts, etc. I cut off one family when they didn’t come out to get their share one week. [Picking up your box of free food that has already been harvested is a minimum.]

    I incurred about 300 hours of my labor for these 4 boxes and the value of these shares was $2700. The cost to me, without labor, was $398. My labor return, if I had sold these shares, would have been $7.67 per hour. However, I did not get one dime in donations (not even from the nonprofit!), nor did the people who received the shares do any work. The person who nominated two people came out to the farm to work and also received food for her work. I did not cost that out, but it was well below the 600 hours I incurred for the two boxes she nominated. In other words, this experiment was a dismal failure. The conclusion? Even in a farming community and a place on the Left Coast that touts itself as an enclave of “hipsterdom,” people don’t get it.

    What is another conclusion from this example? The actual cost of producing food is low IF you discount labor. This is why industrial agriculture is so successful in kinking the game. As long as there is cheap oil energy, farmers with capital behind them can grow lots of food without high labor costs. Indigenous farmers in other countries and small-scale microfarmers in the US, Canada and Europe are all left out in the cold. What most small-scale farmers in Whatcom County do is use as much cheap oil energy as they can – filling up their 1948 Ford tractors to do as much machine work as possible and selling their food at metro markets where there are more yuppies to buy the food. It is a real conundrum. (BTW, I have been instrumental in starting three local farmers markets in Whatcom County since 2006, but there are not enough sales to support local farmers. People still prefer to go to the grocery store for cheap industrial food.)

    The gift economy is a real alternative. However, feel-good articles don’t help much. What YOU the consumer have to do is actually support small-scale farmers. There are some right close to you. I suggest you give them 10% of their income. They are already giving to the community. You will just be paying the obligation you have already incurred.

  4. I love your comment that donations are a way to transition to a gift economy. I disagree though with your definition of what a gift economy practice is. The heart of gift economies is the bond of the relationships. People to people. People to nature. Nature to nature. You cannot be successful at this by focusing on the what instead of the who. Small rural microfarmers have a challenge being far from potential customers/community. And if you’re really going for a gift economy, then you would build a beloved community full of deep bonds and trust. The gifts you give do return eventually, but you can’t control in what form or from whom. Gratitude helps. Peace!

  5. The heart of gift economies is the bond of the relationships. People to people. People to nature. Nature to nature. You cannot be successful at this by focusing on the what instead of the who. Small rural microfarmers have a challenge being far from potential customers/community. And if you’re really going for a gift economy, then you would build a beloved community full of deep bonds and trust. The gifts you give do return eventually, but you can’t control in what form or from whom. Gratitude helps. Peace!

  6. Pingback: Activism: Peaches help Grow Slovenia’s Gift Economy | RECLAIM THE CURB

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